Former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was asked in an official congressional inquiry from former House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) about whether she used a private email for government work as far back as 2012.
The letter from Issa to Clinton, sent on Dec. 13, 2012 and obtained by Breitbart News after an explosive New York Times expose on it late Tuesday evening, specifically asks eight detailed questions about government record-keeping.
“Have you or any senior agency official ever used a personal e-mail account to conduct official business?” the first question reads. “If so, please identify the account used.”
The next two questions asked about whether she or other senior agency officials used text messages or alias email accounts to send or receive government work messages—and the fourth question asks for specific details on the agency’s policies on such accounts.
“Please provide written documentation of the agency’s policies regarding the use of non-official e-mail accounts to conduct official business, including, but not limited to, archiving and record keeping procedures, as well as disciplinary proceedings for employees in violation of these policies,” Issa asked Clinton.
The next question follows up on that. “Does the agency require employees to certify on a periodic basis or at the end of their employment with the agency they have turned over any communications involving official business that they have sent or received using non-official accounts?” Issa asked Clinton.
The next question asks about social media accounts before the final two of the eight questions to Clinton hone in yet again on agency policies.
“What agency policies and procedures are currently in place to ensure that all messages related to official business sent or received by federal employees and contractors on private, non-governmental e-mail accounts or social networking platforms are properly categorized as federal records?” the seventh question to Clinton from Issa reads.
“Have any agency employees been subject to disciplinary proceedings for using non-official e-mail accounts to conduct official business since January 20, 2009?” the final question from Issa to Clinton reads. “If so, please provide a list of names, dates of proceedings, and final outcomes.”
An identical version of Issa’s letter to Clinton was also sent to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Attorney General Eric Holder, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, NASA administrator Charles Bolden, GSA administrator Daniel Tangherlini, Small Business Administration administrator Karen Mills, and Office of Management and Budget director Jeffrey Zients.
At this time, it is unclear if any other of the agencies responded to Issa’s inquiry. But thanks to a New York Times report from Michael S. Schmidt on Tuesday evening, it is now known that the State Department—through Thomas B. Gibbons, the acting assistant secretary for legislative affairs—responded to Issa’s letter after Clinton left office.
Clinton resigned from the State Department on Feb. 1, 2013—as Schmidt wrote on Tuesday evening, “seven weeks after the letter [from Issa] was sent to her.”
Gibbons waited several more weeks, until March 27, 2013, to respond to Issa’s letter on the State Department’s behalf. Gibbons did not answer in that letter whether Clinton used a personal email address, and it’s unclear based on the Times report—which does not include the full text of the letter Gibbons sent back to Issa—how specific he was in answering any of the other questions Issa had for Clinton and her State Department.
“When Mr. Issa received a response from the State Department on March 27, all he got was a description of the department’s email policies,” Schmidt wrote.
From the two sections of the letter Schmidt did quote in his piece, however, it is clear that Clinton was in violation of the State Department policy that employees should not be using personal email addresses to conduct official business.
Any employee who had a personal account, Gibbons wrote in the letter according to Schmidt’s report, “should make it clear that his or her personal email is not being used for official business.”
Gibbons added, according to Schmidt, that “employees may use personal email on personal time for matters not directly related to official business, and any employee using personal email ‘should make it clear that his or her personal email is not being used for official business.’”
Schmidt also paraphrased another portion Gibbons’ letter by writing that the “State Department offered training on its record management programs to its employees.”
State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach on Tuesday, Schmidt wrote, “declined” to “answer questions about why it had not addressed Mr. Issa’s question about whether Mrs. Clinton or senior officials used personal email accounts.”
“The department responds to thousands of congressional inquiries and requests for information each year,” Gerlach told Schmidt instead of answering specific questions. “In its March 2013 letter, the department responded to the House Oversight Committee’s inquiry into the department’s ‘policies and practices regarding the use of personal email and other forms of electronic communications’ with a letter that described those policies in detail.”
There are several major takeaways from this development, as it breathes brand new life into the scandal rocking Clinton as she just launched her 2016 presidential campaign this week.
The first is that she was clearly aware that her private email account was a serious issue as far back as during her time at the State Department.
Secondly, she deliberately decided to not respond to the inquiry—waiting for officials at the State Department to do so well after she resigned, and even further after the deadline for a response. The actual deadline was Jan. 7, 2013.
The third major takeaway is that after Clinton was made aware this was an issue, she deleted upwards of 30,000 emails that she or her staff deemed to be private and not government-related. Since the full text of Gibbons’ response to Issa at this time is unavailable, it’s unclear what the official policy was—according to him—for preserving or archiving such records, or ensuring as Issa put it proper categorization of such messages.
At her widely panned press conference at the United Nations last month, Clinton herself claimed that it is a government official’s personal responsibility to determine what messages are worthy of keeping records of and which ones are not.
“In going through the e-mails, there were over 60,000 in total, sent and received. About half were work-related and went to the State Department and about half were personal that were not in any way related to my work,” she said in response to a question about that angle of the scandal. “I had no reason to save them, but that was my decision because the federal guidelines are clear and the State Department request was clear. For any government employee, it is that government employee’s responsibility to determine what’s personal and what’s work-related. I am very confident of the process that we conducted and the e-mails that were produced. And I feel like once the American public begins to see the e- mails, they will have an unprecedented insight into a high government official’s daily communications, which I think will be quite interesting.”
It’s absolutely clear at this time, however, that she deleted emails after receiving Issa’s inquiry.
In fact, in a document released in early March 2015—in response to the widespread media scrutiny she was receiving—the “Office of Hillary Rodham Clinton” made clear the decisions about which emails to delete and which ones to keep was made after a 2014 correspondence with senior State Department officials, well after Issa’s letter.
“Following conversations with Department officials and in response to the Department’s October 28, 2014 letter to former Secretaries requesting assistance in meeting the Department’s record-keeping requirements, Secretary Clinton directed her attorneys to assist by identifying and preserving all emails that could potentially be federal records,” the Clinton document reads. “This entailed a multi-step process to provide printed copies of the Secretary’s work-related emails to the Department, erring on the side of including anything that might potentially be a federal record. As the State Department has said, Secretary Clinton was the first to respond to this letter.”
Kurt Bardella, a former senior adviser to Issa when he was chairman of the committee–who, in the interest of full disclosure, now serves as a communications aide for Breitbart News Network–but served with Issa at the time this letter was sent to Clinton, said there are more questions than answers that are coming from this development.
“The fact is in December of 2012, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was directly asked if she used a private e-mail account,” Bardella said. “Why did the State Department wait until after Secretary Clinton left office to respond to the Issa letter? Were Secretary Clinton’s efforts to deliberately conceal her official activities through use of her private e-mail prompted by then-Chairman Issa’s request? As is status-quo with the Clintons, there are far more questions than answers and it’s likely that these revelations of her secrecy are just the tip of the iceberg.”
Clinton has been oddly secretive in her first few days as a presidential candidate. In an interview with Breitbart News earlier on Tuesday, Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Reince Priebus argued that Clinton’s campaign rollout has been deliberately underwhelming, and she is “hiding” because she is afraid of answering any real questions from press or voters about her email scandal.
“The reason why she didn’t give a speech is because she can’t avail herself to the media,” Priebus said. “She cannot get herself in a situation where she’s going to have to deal with a question about Benghazi or about the emails or about her speeches or about the Clinton Foundation or about her disastrous tenure as Secretary of State. She wants to be able to have a few days and a couple weeks of peace and change the subject from what’s been plaguing her and the only way she can do that is by hiding and that’s what she’s doing: Hiding.”